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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

What are Checking Runs?

Sam Snow

Last June a National Youth License coaching course was held in New Jersey. One of the coaches in the course had his U10 girls’ team come out to be demo players in the U10 training activities run by the course candidates. During those sessions I (Sam Snow) mentioned to the group of coaches about the quality decisions being made by those players on their positioning and movement within the activities. They clearly were beginning to think one step ahead in the game. They also backed up their decision making with good ball skills. A week or so after the course the coach of those players sent me a message part of which I copy here:
 
"After watching my girls – you mentioned that the next thing I should work on was checking runs. That is a topic that there doesn’t seem to be too much material on and yet I am wondering if you were suggesting to make it an entire lesson – or just part of what they do during a session on triangles? I am sure this is elementary to you – but I wanted to get your thoughts on introducing the checking runs, any activities or games? Or should I just use it as a coaching point? Any help would be appreciated."
 
I replied to the coach and as I always do I copied the state association Technical Director. The New Jersey Youth Soccer Technical Director is Rick Meana (RM) who is also an instructor for the National Youth license. From my response to the club coach, Rick and I began a discussion on off-the-ball movement. In the Principles of Attack this is called Mobility.
 
Adjustments in positioning and runs to get to the right spot on the field are what tactically aware players do throughout a match whether they are attacking or defending. With that fact in mind, here’s the discussion beginning with part of my reply to the club coach.
 
SS: It’s good to read that you are continuing to work with the girls on the triangle shape in their defending and attacking play. When you think the players are ready, add the idea of the checking run to create space for yourself to activities 3 and 4 in your session plan. Checking Run: a feinting technique that involves taking a few quick steps in one direction before turning and sprinting in another.
 
Attacking Runs
 
RM: So moving on with this area -- they say 98% of the game at the top level is spent without the ball -- various "locomotor" movements, etc.
 
7 possible movements a player will make in a game without the ball:
 
1. Checking (away from and back to the ball --U10-12s?)
 
2. Supporting (to a teammate under pressure --U8s?)
 
3. Penetrating (between opponents, preferably through a different "seam" that the ball travel through; i.e., straight ball being played to an angled/diagonal run-- and an angled/diagonal ball being played to a straight run)
 
4. Unbalancing (to the blind/off-ball side of the opponent)
 
5. Clearing (out of a wide channel for a teammate penetrating run)
 
6. Overlapping
 
7. Withdrawing (into a wide channel)
 
So my question from what ages is possible to address/train these runs? 
 
SS: I think all seven movements are possible with the top U12 teams – far left on the bell curve – think the best U12 teams at Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, etc. I believe some of the off-the-ball movements (mobility) are assigned to appropriate ages in the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model (PDM).
 
1.  Checking – I think the idea can be introduced at U10 and then clearly a part of the training plan from U12 onward.
 
2. Supporting – I think the idea can be introduced at U8 and then clearly a part of the training plan from U10 onward.
 
3. Penetrating – well one could say that penetrating runs occur for U6 and onward. However, tactically timed penetrating runs through the seams of the opposing team likely won’t start until the U12 age group. I think there are college teams that have a difficult time with this type of attacking run – as opposed to just mindlessly sprinting up field. Again players to the left of the bell curve in the U12 age group could read the run, but they will need a really good coach to help them see the tactical moment and to take advantage of it. When to run and when to not make this run will be the biggest challenge to teach.
 
4. Unbalancing runs – U14 and onward. I think runs number 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 will be a lot for the U12 age group to learn well enough for it all to be a conscious part of their game. Third attacker runs for the U12 age group are possible if it’s presented in a somewhat concrete manner, such as far post runs on a cross or a corner kick.
 
5. Clearing – the notion of run out of a place to open that space for a teammate is an idea that U12 players can comprehend. Again make it a bit concrete for them with a tactic like – when the left or right fullback overlaps then forward players should pinch in toward the middle of the field to help open the space on the flank.
 
6. Overlapping – the tactic could be taught from the U10 age group and onward. The problem for the U10 players with this tactic will be patience – theirs and their parents, and possibly their coaches, too. However, players who are not expected to run-n-gun all the time could add the overlap to their attack.
 
7. Withdrawing – do you mean this move as the opposite of clearing? If yes, then I think for sure U14 and older players will understand the maneuver.
 
RM: Yes--- for withdrawing run I mean an outside MF or winger getting "sideways on" or "butt to the touchline" or "white on your boots" type run.
 
SS: OK, so "withdrawing" is to get out as wide as possible when on the attack; get some chalk on your boots. I think that even U10 players can begin to grasp that idea, especially if they get passes from teammates when they are wide on the pitch and wide open from marking. However, the idea of withdraw in order to create space for a teammate in the central channel of the pitch may not click for the kids. It’s an indirect reward for a 10-year-old. For example, Sam says, "Yeah my run opened up Rick, but he got the ball instead of me. I made the run, why didn’t I get the ball?"
 
We then carried the discussion over to runs made when defending.
 
Defending Runs
 
1. Pressing
2. Closing 
3. Tracking
4. Marking
5. Covering
6. Sliding over
7. Stepping Up
8. Dropping Off
 
SS: First I have two questions. Are numbers 2 and 7 essentially the same? If # 2 is about the first defender and # 7 is about 2nd and 3rd defenders then the breakdown of the eight types of defensive off-the-ball movements make sense to me. My second question, is sliding over in item 6 the same as pinching in?
 
With these thoughts in mind here’s my age group introduction of each type of run:
 
1. U6 – true it’s not an intentional tactical thought, but it is occurring and should be encouraged.
 
2. U8 – the idea of controlling your speed as you close down the dribbler I think can be planted as a seed in the minds of U8 players.
 
3. U10 – for sure the straight forward notion of pick up an opponent and run with him or her when your team is defending is comprehensible to this age group.
 
4. U10 – it’s concrete, but since its off-the-ball I think the skill can be taught at U10 but not sooner.
 
5. U10 – the coach will have to be patient though as the kids will often forget to recover in order to cover.
 
6. U12 – this is a much more abstract recognition of space and a tactical moment in the game.
 
7. U12 – this age group could get the idea since it is a way to stay compact and I think that idea, both for defending and attacking, is important to teach and reteach from this age onward. However, only coaches with solid understanding of the principles of defense will be able to teach the concept in a way the U12 players will understand
 
8. U12 – since it’s just the opposite of "stepping up" then I think it could be introduced.
The last two tactical movements, stepping up and dropping off, are only introduced to the U12 age group. I think consistent execution of those defending tactics begins at U14.
 
RM: YES and YES to your two questions!
 
SS: Based on our discussion the saying that U12 is the Dawning of Tactical Awareness jumps off the page.

Comments (2)

 

Player Behavior

Sam Snow

I coach a soccer team made up of 13 and 14 year old boys. I have a couple of players that are "bratty." They want to do what they want; they roll their eyes when being coached or whistle when the coach is talking to them. Should I give in to them or kick them off the team?
 
On a number of different levels, the early teens are a challenging age group to coach. It is a normal part of this age to test and push the limits of those with authority over them – parents, teachers and yes, soccer coaches too. Nevertheless, when it comes to team behavior coaches should follow this saying, "The standards you get are the standards you set."
 
In this instance I would not go to either extreme of giving in to them or cutting them from the team. The next time one of them behaves inappropriately in front of the team, coaches or team manager, then immediately pull that player aside individually and address the matter directly. The head coach must make it clear to the player what behaviors are unacceptable in the culture of the team. Do not punish the player at this time. Be matter of fact in the tone you take and with your body language. Your goal here is twofold. First, you must begin to modify the player(s) behavior; and secondly, you want to keep the player(s) in the team. If the player(s) act out again during that training session or match, then remind the player of what had just been discussed. Be consistent in your expectations of the players. But don’t harp on it either. Don’t take the misbehavior personally—it is kids testing limits. That testing is sometimes a youngster’s way of finding out if this adult authority figure really does care about them.
 
If the inappropriate behavior continues after a week or two of the coach addressing it directly with the player, then ask the parents to be involved in the next discussion with the player. Ask the parents to support mature behavior by their child so that it benefits the team, respects the staff and aids in the growth of the player.
 
If the behavior still does not improve, involve the club director of coaching and/or the club president in the discussion with the player and parents. After that step is taken and if the misbehavior continues then, the club makes the decision to release the player from the club. This is the final step and hopefully all options have been exhausted before dropping a youth player. Our overarching goal in all of youth soccer must be to keep kids in the game for a lifetime.
 
I think another analysis of the inappropriate behavior should be reflection by the coach on the training methods being used. The seed of the problem could be poor coaching and/or management of the training environment. Sometimes young players act out when the coach fails to avoid the three L’s: lines, laps and lectures. Coaches should avoid these actions during a training session. When these actions are present in a training session it is not only inefficient use of training time, but it is also boring. The kids came to training to play soccer. They did not show up to stand with the coach and talk about soccer, stand in a long line waiting to kick the ball one time and then go to the back of the line or to run laps around the field. They came to training to PLAY soccer! When coaches move away from drills in training sessions and instead use game-like activities then the players are fully engaged physically and mentally. The challenges of game-like activities and the problem solving situations they present are not only fun, but they help players develop to a higher level of soccer. Take it a step further and have the players who have been acting out to be the leaders in some of the activities. Ask them questions during the training session that cause them to think deeply about the game, give them leadership responsibilities and challenge the limits of their talents. When the abilities of these players are met with an appropriate soccer challenge then it is likely that the misbehavior will disappear.
 
A coach can tell the difference between a drill and an activity by using the activity checklist. Whenever you put together a lesson plan for a training session ask yourself these questions:
 
  • Are the activities fun?
  • Are the activities organized?
  • Are the players involved in the activities?
  • Is creativity and decision making being used?
  • Are the spaces used appropriate?
  • Is the coach’s feedback appropriate?
  • Are there implications for the game?
 
Soccer is easy to teach to children because many of them already know a good deal about it and many simply enjoy the sport. Simple principles, professional organization, appropriate incentives, and unlimited encouragement—-any coach worth the name can hardly fail. Even more important, he or she will gain enormous gratification from the pleasure and satisfaction gained by the children.

Comments (0)

 

Mixed gender pick-up games

Sam Snow

A coach wrote in with this scenario: "Good afternoon, Sam. I am a member of a youth travel club which is experiencing some growing pains and differences of opinions among the board members and coaching staff.
 
The main concern, for today at least, is mixed age and mixed gender scrimmages within out club. We have had a case where a U14 boy’s team "scrimmaged" a U10 girl’s team. I use quotations on the word scrimmage as there were many restrictions on the boys with none on the girls and several coaches were present and some even on the field to supervise and ensure things did not get out of hand.
 
I would like to ask for your opinion on this. Is there any benefit that outweighs the risk of injury (both physical and psychological) to the younger players? What would be the appropriate age/gender gap for such a scrimmage?"
 
There are indeed benefits to pick-up games with mixed ages and even mixed age groups. However, the range of ages must be prudent. If the scrimmage had indeed been in the neighborhood or on the recess ground at school, the odds are good that 14-year-old boys would not have included 10-year-old girls in their game. I suggest that when coaches do arrange for a scrimmage with another age group and/or gender that they keep it within the three stages of biological growth that pertain to youth soccer.
 
1.            Childhood – 4 to 9 years old
2.            Puberty – 10 to 14 years old
3.            Adolescence – 15 to 19 years old
 
These are the general ages of each stage. Some persons will enter a stage sooner or later than their peers.
Sam

Comments (0)

 

Youth Awards

Sam Snow

A youth coach asks:

"I am looking for some guidance on coaching Under-9 boys’ soccer. Specifically, is it acceptable to give out player recognition/accomplishment awards to some players (i.e. sportsmanship, MVP, coaches award etc.). I was advised by one parent that soccer is a team sport and these types of awards should not be used. Can you comment on this or provide me with a reference from which I can get some advice? I would not want to use this type of player recognition if not advisable by your organization."

I think that for 8 and 9-year-old kids the focus should be on their participation in the game, growing their love of the game, making friends in the team, getting healthy exercise and learning some life skills along with soccer skills. The coaches giving recognition for good play during training sessions and after a match to individuals is fine, as opposed to a formalized awards ceremony. I also suggest that during the course of the soccer season you look for a chance to give public praise to each kid on the team.

Additionally, a private word of encouragement, recognition or praise will go a long way in building self-confidence. But, it has to be earned and sincere; no cheerleading so to speak.

If you want to have an end of the season picnic for the team and its supporters that would be the time for public recognition of group accomplishments.

Generally wait until the teenage years to give individual awards as you describe in your message, as it will then mean more to the players. They will have achieved at this age a better understanding of the award and its significance.

Comments (2)